By Brock Huard
Todd McShay got it right with his latest mock draft, a two-round preview which has the Seahawks taking a pass-rusher first and middle linebacker second. Over the last two years, Pete Carroll and John Schneider have spent 65 percent of their draft picks on the defensive side of the ball, and I don’t expect to see that trend change, especially in the early rounds in late April.
The Seahawks have built a top-10 defense and a particularly stout group against the run, trailing only the 49ers, Ravens and Dolphins in yielding just 3.8 yards per carry. The back end of the defense featured three Pro Bowlers that finished the year fourth in the NFL with 22 interceptions and sixth in passer rating against (74.8).
Those are remarkable numbers, considering the fact that the season before Carroll and Co. took over the Seahawks were 28th in passer rating against (93.4), 22nd with just 13 interceptions, and were 24th overall in yards against.
The one stat, however, where the production hasn’t improved as dramatically: sacks.
In 2009 the Hawks tallied 28 of them (tied for 26th in the league), while last season the number jumped to just 33 (19th in the league and just two sacks better than the 25th-best Jaguars). Brandon Mebane, Big Red Bryant, Alan Branch and crew stuff the run, but outside of Chris Clemons — whose 11 sacks accounted for a third of the Hawks’ total — the defense lacks a playmaker who can get home individually or command a double team.
North Carolina’s Quinton Coples had 17.5 sacks over the last two seasons. (AP)
Before moving on to the mock drafts and the actual NFL draft (just four weeks from today, in fact), it is important to remember that the Seahawks’ only Super Bowl team wasn’t just built around two hall of famers on the offensive line and an MVP running back. The 2005 Seahawks also led the league in one other critical area. You guessed it — sacks!
That’s right, Bryce Fisher (9), Rocky Bernard (8.5), Leroy Hill (7.5), Marcus Tubbs (5.5), Lofa Tatupu (4) and Grant Wistrom (4) helped pace the diversified way to the quarterback. Furthermore, four of the last five Super Bowl champions have been near the top of the league standings when it comes to getting after opposing signal-callers:
• 2011 Giants (3rd overall with 48)
• 2010 Packers (2nd overall with 47)
• 2008 Steelers (2nd overall with 51)
• 2007 Giants (1st overall with 53)
The good news for Schneider and Carroll is the upcoming draft should have plenty of options in the front seven when it comes to personnel that can make an impact as Tatupu, Hill and even Tubbs did early in their career. In fact, McShay’s latest mock draft would be a dream scenario with a prototypical pass rusher with the length and strength Carroll desires in North Carolina’s Quinton Coples and the rare burst and acceleration at linebacker with Cal’s Mychal Kendricks.
However, the mock draft script could be flipped with the draft’s most dynamic and instinctive linebacker at No. 12 with Luke Kuechly going 12th and then a pass-rusher such as USC’s Nick Perry or Marshall’s Vinny Curry at No. 43.
Lastly, the Hawks’ ability in free agency to address quarterback, defensive end and running back without breaking the bank for Matt Flynn, Red Bryant and Marshawn Lynch, respectively, further allows the organization to be nimble and flexible in the upcoming draft. Though pass-rusher and linebacker are obvious needs, if a game-breaking wide receiver or back-breaking guard or tackle is on the board with a grade that far surpasses any other available prospect (i.e. Steve Hutchinson in 2001) the Seahawks have proved over the last two seasons that talent trumps any agenda.
Clearly, the foundation is being built and significant progress has been made. If this upcoming draft finds as many starters as the class that preceded it (four) the Hawks will be putting 7-9 seasons in the rearview mirror.